NBA Retires Bill Russell’s Number 6 League-Wide, Memorial Patches for All Teams in 2022-23

Today, the National Basketball Association and its Player’s Association announced that the number six, that of all-time great Bill Russell, will be retired league-wide, beginning with the 2022-23 season.

The honour will be grandfathered into the league; any players who currently wear the number six can continue to do so for the remainder of their careers. The number six will no longer be issued to new players or existing players who do not currently wear the number.

Russell is the first player to receive this honour across the National Basketball Association. Only two other players amongst the “Big Four” North American leagues have had their numbers retired league-wide: Jackie Robinson’s #42 in Major League Baseball was retired in 1997 upon the 50th anniversary of his breaking of the colour barrier in 1947; and Wayne Gretzky’s #99 was retired by the National Hockey League in 2000, one year following his retirement from the game.

“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honoured in a unique and historic way,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in the press release. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”

In addition to the league-wide jersey retirement of Russell’s number six, the NBA also announced that all 30 NBA teams will wear a commemorative patch honouring the life of Bill Russell on the upper right of their jerseys. All teams will also display a clover-shaped logo featuring Russell’s number 6 on the sideline of their court near the scorer’s table. The team Russell spent his entire NBA playing career, the Celtics will get a special patch unique to them.

“This is a momentous honour reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game,” said NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio. “Bill’s actions on and off the court throughout the course of his life helped to shape generations of players for the better and for that, we are forever grateful. We are proud to continue the celebration of his life and legacy alongside the league.”

Game-worn Bill Russell jersey on display at the National Museum of African American History & Culture (via Adam Fagen/Flickr)

For those who are unaware of Russell’s achievements, I’ll let the NBA tell his story:

Regarded as the ultimate winner and model teammate, Russell transformed the game with his dominant defence and graceful athleticism at the center position. He won a record 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, which followed back-to-back national championships at the University of San Francisco (1955 and 1956) and a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (1956). Russell, who led Boston to eight consecutive NBA championships from 1959-66, was so synonymous with success that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was named for him in 2009.

His myriad accomplishments included five NBA Most Valuable Player awards, 12 NBA All-Star selections and 11 All-NBA Team honours. Russell was named to all four NBA anniversary teams (25th, 35th, 50th and 75th) and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. A four-time NBA rebounding champion, he ranks second in league history in total rebounds (21,620) and rebounds per game (22.5) in the regular season. The Celtics retired his No. 6 jersey in 1972.

During and after his extraordinary basketball career, Russell passionately advocated for the values of equality, respect and inclusion. He marched for civil rights with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was steadfast in his belief that all people should be treated with dignity. Russell was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for his athletic feats and lifelong commitment to social justice.

Russell died two weeks ago, on July 31, 2022, at 88 years of age.